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Marks & Spencer Seeks Buyer for Groceries

December 2, 2002

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LONDON (AP) _ Retailer Marks & Spencer said Monday it was broadening its search for a buyer for its Kings Super Markets chain and would consider selling the U.S. business to someone outside the retail industry.

D’Agostino Supermarkets became the second prospective buyer for Kings to fail to raise enough money to close the deal. Marks & Spencer said it would continue talking with D’Agostino about a possible deal, but the British company plans now to cast a wider net.

``I’m not saying we’ll sell to anybody, but if the buyer has the money then obviously we’ll consider them. ... It comes down to who can complete the deal,″ said Marks & Spencer spokesman Christopher Hunter-Ward.

Marks & Spencer, which wants $160 million for Kings, has called off an exclusivity agreement with D’Agostino now that a Nov. 30 deadline has passed without a sale. It’s eager to talk with any other serious candidate, Hunter-Ward said.

Previous talks with Gristede Foods broke down in July. Gristede reportedly is still interested in Kings.

Marks & Spencer announced in March last year that it aimed to sell all its wholly owned overseas operations in an effort to concentrate on its troubled domestic business. It unloaded U.S. menswear retailer Brooks Brothers in November 2001, and closed stores in continental Europe. Kings is its last remaining operation outside Britain.

Kings has 29 stores, mainly in New Jersey, and employs about 2,700 people. The chain is profitable, and Marks & Spencer’s failure so far to sell it reflects the challenge U.S. companies face in raising funds rather than a problem with Kings itself, Hunter-Ward said.

``We’re not going to sell it at any price,″ he said. Marks & Spencer paid $110.3 million for the chain in 1998.

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